Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 32

“ASK him. Ask him . . .”

Standing under the old oak with Marco, Julia could almost feel that was what the tree, rustling in the breeze, was saying. As if it, too, wanted to know Marco’s history. Wild thinking, maybe. But didn’t her mum, Evie, always say that, though all trees were living things, Two Shires Oak was more alive than most?

She made up her mind.

“Marco, I agree that the future is important. But I’d like to know about your past. Your family. Particularly,” she added, holding his eyes, “if you want us to have a future together.”

He didn’t reply immediately, then spoke.

“I’ve told you, Julia, I have no family. Both my parents are dead.”

“I’d like to know about them.” Still feeling brave, she held her ground.

He was silent for a while, then he shrugged.

“There’s little I can say about my father. He left my mother when I was just an infant. That was in Italy – they were Italian – but because of the scandal she left to come and work as a housekeeper here. Why are you looking like that?”

“I’m just surprised she felt she had to leave her home. This is nineteen seventy-two, Marco. Attitudes have changed. No-one wants marriages to end, but . . .”

“It wasn’t nineteen seventy-two back then, was it?” he responded. “And we’re talking about a remote and conservative little village that she lived in, away up in the hills. Breathtakingly beautiful, from all she said.”

“You’ve never been?”

“No. She wouldn’t go back, even after my father’s death. But she loved it, pined for it, Julia. I think that contributed to her early death.” His voice suddenly wavered. He was a man who was always so in control and self-assured.

But Julia already knew he often didn’t feel as confident as he pretended to be. Reaching out, she took him in her arms and they stayed, locked together, until the tree started its rustlings again.

Ah, now we understand why he forgets the past, it seemed to say. Painful memories. Let him be.

“Come on,” she said, gently releasing him, “or we’ll be late for my mum’s birthday tea.”

Julia asked no more questions as they walked back to Marco’s car. But he spoke voluntarily about his mother, and how she would make up little stories for him that, as he grew older, he deduced were set in the village.

“So I almost feel I have been there. The way she described its little church and narrow streets, and crumbly old steps everywhere because it was so hilly.”

How she had a lovely voice.

“She sang like an angel, Julia.”

How she was a brilliant cook.

“About meeting your mother and stepfather . . .” he said as they neared the car.

“We needn’t stay long,” Julia assured him. “I know it isn’t your thing.”

Family was everything to her, but Marco had survived a long while without one.

“True.” He frowned. “But what you
said earlier about us having a future together . . .”

She felt her face redden. Away from the tree she was not so bold. She should never have said it! Marco had never indicated he was thinking that way.

“If we’re going to have a future – and I want that, Julia, dearly – they are going to be my family, too, aren’t they?”

He took her in his arms. And there were no murmurings from the tree to disturb them – just the giggles of a couple of schoolboys. Julia laughed with them, unable to remember ever feeling so happy. Just one more thing, that was all she wanted, and she’d be over the moon with joy.

“You’re late,” Evie greeted them when at last they arrived, “but no harm, me ducks, I’ve kept you food back. I’ll get it after we’ve all said hello properly,” she added, eyeing Marco.

Please get on, Julia whispered to herself. Please!

*  *  *  *

In the kitchen later, Julia pulled a face as Evie, slicing a pork pie for them, warbled along to Donny Osmond’s current hit, playing in the next room where friends and neighbours were still gathered and looked like they would be for some while.

“As you can hear, my mum doesn’t sing like an angel!” Julia grinned at Marco. “And she isn’t a particularly good cook, either. No time, with the business.”

“She’s great,” Marco said, smiling.

Julia felt like singing herself. Because earlier, when she’d gone up to the bathroom, Evie had followed her and had said the same about Marco. That was the extra thing she’d hoped for. Now, truly, she was over the moon!

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.